Baltimore Beginnings

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I’m honored to join the Baltimore Times team as a columnist. This column will allow me to share some of my experiences and offer solutions to some of the pressing problems of today. We are in the midst of massive change within our community. The anguish and angst of structural racism, police brutality, income inequality, health disparities, academic anemia and generational barriers has produced a schismatic divide.

Who will be bridge builders to a new future? Who will venture out into the unknown to point us into a pathway forward? Clearly it is time to hear from the various voices that make up our community.

I grew up in West Baltimore and lived my early years at 1211 Druid Hill Avenue. I now serve as the Senior Pastor of Union Baptist Church that is in the block of my youth. I’m the 10th Pastor in its 168-year history and as a result I see Baltimore not only through my personal experiences, but also through the historic lens of a social justice ministry that has been on the cutting edge of change for more than a century and a half.

Interestingly, my educational experience within Baltimore City Public Schools was in racially diverse school settings. From Elementary school to Junior high school to High school I was a minority, even as an African American, during my years in public education.

Just a little footnote, I attended Betsy Ross Elementary School as a member of the wave of African American students integrating the school in Southwest Baltimore. The tension within the school and the community was so high that in record time Baltimore City Public School System built a brand new Elementary school just for the African American students who had migrated to the Shipley Hill Community of West Baltimore.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I now realize structural racism was so intent on perpetuating itself that it found the funds to create a segregated school in the middle of an integrated community. On the mind of every one today is police brutally and the unjustified murder of so many at their hands.

I grew up in the time of Officer Friendly, as African American officers were integrating the Police Department.

We interacted with many of the police officers whose names would become legendary: Violet Hill Whyte; Officer Murdock; Bishop L. Robinson; Allen “Dickie” Burke; James H. Watkins; Dennis P. Mello; Edward J. Tilghman; William “Box” Harris; Edward V. Woods; Marvin Sydnor; Teddy Black; and Leonard Hamm, just to name a few.

In some sense in my early years this vanguard of the police department were the first line of interaction for many of us in the community. They knew our names, understood our struggles and became confidants and friends. This era of officers symbolized community police.

I’ve had some amazing experiences in academia, community organizing, and economic development.

Just imagine having as your Junior High School classmates: Elijah E. Cummings, the late Congressman; and Gregory Kane, the late journalist; and to top that off have as your Social Studies Teacher, the late Dr. Samuel L. Banks.

Growing up in the Upton Community on Druid Hill Avenue and within the walls of Union Baptist Church provided me with a bird’s eye view of history in the making.

I remember peering through the fence of Gwynn Oak Park unable to go in because of the color of my skin. Then, because of the Gwynn Oak Park protest by clergy and others, I was able to ride on the merry-go-round that is now on the grounds of the Mall in the Nation’s Capital.

I remember writing signage as a youth that I carried as a warm body picketing the Goldseker business for writing land installment contracts for African Americans relegating them to tenant status when in their minds they thought they were homeowners.

I remember the activism after the 1968 riots when members of the Goon Squad decided to run Parren J. Mitchell for Congress only to have him lose, and then ran him again in 1970 and he won.

I was assigned to the Franklintown Road polling warehouse and watched as the ballots were sealed and transported to the Board of Elections.

I was on the initial organizing staff of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), where I honed my skills in faith-based community organizing. Those skills were sharpened when I became the executive director of The Southeast Cluster of Churches in Washington, D.C.

There is so much more I could add in terms of community economic development. I was mentored by some of the most successful developers in the State of Maryland in real estate development and management.

I was educated theologically at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary and University, earned my Doctor of Ministry degree at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio and continued postgraduate studies at the Regent’s College at Oxford University.

I’m an ecumenist with relationships at the highest levels in the major faith communities around the globe. All of these experiences and more I will bring to future columns I will author in my humble attempt to challenge, critique and to collaborate in building a new Baltimore that is accountable, creditable, transparent, equitable and diverse.

Dr. Al Hathaway serves as the Senior Pastor of Union Baptist Church located at 1219 Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore City.